The Politics and Culture of the 1960s Hippie Movement As the nineteen fifties turned into the early sixties, the United States remained the same patriotic, harmonious society of the previous decade; often a teen’s most difficult decision was choosing what color lipstick to wear to the prom. Yet after 1963, a dramatic change slowly developed in the cultural, social, and political beliefs of America, particularly the youth. The death of President Kennedy, the new music, the quest for civil rights, the popularity of mind-altering drugs, the senselessness of the Vietnam War, and the invention of the birth control pill reacted like an imbalanced chemical equation to formulate a new American counterculture: the hippie.
Contrasting with ever-dominant mainstream society, the “layed back” hippie nobly tried to change the world not by force, but through peace and love. Though not entirely successful, the hippie movement clearly marked the mid- to late-nineteen sixties and early seventies as a mixture of peace and brotherly love with “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” The formal definition of a hippie is “one who does not conform to social standards, advocating a liberal attitude and lifestyle.” However, the true definition of a “hippie” in unclear; no interpretation could categorize every person who fits into the ambiguous category of a hippie.
According to Phoebe Thompson’s definition, being a hippie is “a choice of philosophy.” Hippies are generally “antithetical” to structured hierarchies, such as church, government, and social castes. The ultimate goal of the hippie movement is peace, attainable only through love and toleration of the earth and each other. Finally, a hippie needs freedom, both physical freedom to experience life and mental freeness to remain open-minded (12-13).
In the view of some historians, thus, Thoreau and Ghandi were hippies, and hippies continue to exist today (25). Yet what unique qualities characterized the American hippies of the nineteen sixties, and how did this movement gain enough power to influence millions of teenagers? The nineteen fifties was one of America’s most prosperous (and dull) decades. Conformity and nationalism swept the nation; television sitcoms reinforced old-fashioned family values; the typical teenager aspired for the “all-American” look and personality. Yet music had already planted the seeds of rebellion; Rock and Roll began to sweep the nation.
Kids wore leather jackets, violated curfews, and considered themselves rebels, though oddly with no cause. The rebellion craze was epitomized by Marlon Brado’s role in the film The Wild One. When asked: “What are you rebelling against,” he responded: “Whatta you got?” The music of Elvis and other rock bands caused the rebellion; all the teens needed was a cause (Manning 32-34). The Vietnam War began as President Kennedy’s effort to protect the “free world” from Communism.
Kennedy, a well-liked president, received little war opposition from the people. He was young and supported free-spiritedness, open-mindedness, and equality; at his assassination in 1963 only 15,000 troops were in Vietnam. Under Lyndon Johnson the number of soldiers skyrocketed, however, reaching 500,000 in 1966. Television broadcasts from overseas became more gruesome and the deaths more tragic.
The nightly news counted the dead and described compiling destruction, and many political and literary figures began to speak out publicly against keeping US troops in Vietnam (Harding 56-9). Though Johnson continually promised a swift end to the war, the Tet Offensive of 1968 finally proved otherwise. A surprise attack on American soldiers caused a significant loss of land and life; the Communists were apparently nowhere near defeat (Buchholz 861)! Shiploads of American boys came too and from Vietnam, only too many of those returning home were riding in a coffin. The hippie movement germinated in San Francisco, with the Vietnam War at its core.
The movement eventually spread to the East Coast as well, centralized in New York’s East Village in addition to the Haight-Asbury district of San Francisco and Sunset Strip of Los Angeles (Buchholz 858). Disgusted by conformity, culture, and politics, some hippies abandoned society to live in isolated communes; by 1970 over 200 communes existed, maintaining 40,000 youths. However, many hippies also took a political stance against the war. The Vietnam War conflicted directly with the hippie belief in peace and love, so the counterculture protested the war throughout the nation.
The “flower children” held “love-ins” to celebrate their rights, spoke out publicly, formed protest groups with the slogan: “Hell no, we won’t go!”, burned flags, and tore up draft slips (858). To avoid the Vietnam draft, some pacifists took extraordinary measures. Many claimed insanity, lied about homosexuality, pretended to be physically unfit, or fled to Canada (19). Yet far too many peace-loving hippies were sent to jail for refusing the draft call, maintaining their principles and integrity (Gottlieb 55).
“Faced with family dejection, exile, arrest, and imprisonment, they nevertheless continued to stay firm to the opposition to that war” (Tollefson 4). While the government drafted their “brothers,” the remaining hippies protest the war at home. Considering most hippies were under thirty, the greatest concentration of them was in colleges throughout America. Protests began in Columbia University and Berkley University, California.
A demonstration against Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia led to violence at Kent State University; the National Guard killed four students. Finally, the University of Virginia, founded by America’s forefather of freedom Thomas Jefferson, was raided by two hundred baton-waving policemen who arrested sixty-eight students (Thompson 66-8). The greatest expression of the hippie belief, whether pro-peace or pro-pot, was their music. Rock and roll was their voice.
Led by Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and the Beatles, rock and folk music overtook the airwaves. (Manning 102) Bob Dylan used the lyrics of folk music to convey a social commentary and protest. In a civil rights march in 1963, he sang the following lyrics: How many years can some people exist Before their allowed to be free? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind The answer is blowin’ in the wind (102) Folk artists did not sing simply to sound pleasant, but more importantly to convey a message. Most song lyrics addressed the wart or the civil rights movement, and the crowd would sing along in a chorus.
Existing in harmony with folk music was rock, which adopted a style known as psychedelia, or “mind expansion.” Rock’s lyrics were less important, with the overall sound dominating as an expression of the soul. And with many band members high on marijuana or LSD, hardcore “acid rock” became a means of escaping the world-for both the band and the audience (102-103). The “ultimate orgy” of rock and folk music occurred at “Woodstock” in August of 1969.
Located in New York State, Woodstock the concert was a three-day long event in which 400,000 people got high, had sex, and listened to some very beautiful and psychedelic music. The roster included some of the most famous rock bands on earth, as well talented amateurs looking for a start. An attendee described it as: “Three days of love, peace, and rock!” (Thompson 89). The concert epitomized the music and, indirectly, the hippie lifestyle of the sixties, and paved the way for the more diverse, “drugged-up” musical style of the early seventies.
Illicit drugs were a prominent influence on hippie lifestyle and culture. By the mid-sixties, LSD and marijuana had overtaken America overnight. These hallucinogens were a social activity at least experimented with by virtually every “groovy” teenager in America. Numerous books were written both condemning and justifying the new drug phenomena.
Drug proponents referred to Native Americans religious ceremony, spiritual and medical references in ancient texts, and Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception to defend their drug use. Eventually more toxic drugs such as cocaine, heroin, barbiturates, and amphetamines followed, used for recreation and often leading to fatal consequences. Drugs became incorporated into the music industry as well; most musical artists used narcotics, often writing and performing songs while “high” (Harding 29, 31). The hippies’ social status as nonconformist, doped-up outcasts was paralleled by their fashion and lifestyle.
Devout hippies lived modestly in communes and were strict vegetarians, respecting not only human but also animal rights. Modest living also applied to clothing. Hippies in the sixties did not consider fashion important enough to spend much time on, and on the contrary tried to look “bad” according to society’s standards. Women dressed like “peasants and wore psychedelic colors;” makeup and perfume were almost sinful, and clothing was loose, comfortable, and unique (Michaels 328).
Bright, swirling patterns for both sexes paralleled the “acid rock” style of their music. Both men and women grew long, unkempt hair and the men often grew beards as well. To outsiders, the hippies seemed “dirty, drugged, and disrespectful to their elders;” it was exactly what they wanted (329). The hippie philosophy preached peace and toleration.
Thus, they were supportive of all civil rights movements, supporting females, blacks, homosexuals, and foreigners on attaining rights and equal treatment. Hippie women wanted to be free. To relieve themselves of society’s burdens, many stopped shaving their arm and leg hairs. Further women’s liberation came with the invention of the birth control pill in 1960 and its perfection in 1963; women were finally sexually free.
Female philosophy changed overnight; instead of waiting till marriage for intercourse, many women now making love to the first guy she saw. Dating virtually vanished; hippies had sex first and got to know each other afterwards. With increased sexual freedom and the lack of widespread sexually transmitted diseases, promiscuous sex flourished during the 1960s (Thompson 44). Having gained sexual freedom, women were now fighting for rights outside the bedroom.
Betty Friedan forms The National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966 to gain women the same rights as men. Courses in women studies were instated at universities, men realized (as part of the hippie movement) that women should be treated more fairly, and efforts were made, unsuccessfully, to add an amendment to the Constitution to guarantee women’s equality. Though mainstream women also participated in these protests, both hippie men and women took an active role in ensuring equality for all (Buchholz 851-3). Another significant group, the black community, sought after its civil rights during the 1960s.
Numerous protests, both peaceful and violent, were held by black Americans to end centuries of discrimination, branded upon them since their ancestors arrived four hundred years earlier. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X eloquently led the black protests, and most hippies enthusiastically participating in peaceful demonstrations for black civil rights (854-7). The Age of the Hippies, fortunately or unfortunately, did not last forever.
In the early 1970s, somewhere between ’70 and ’74, the entire movement died almost as abruptly as it had begun. To many the entire hippie movement was just a fad that was no longer “in.” The Vietnam War, the main force driving the social revolution, was concluding; an anti-war march on Washington and San Francisco in 1971, accumulating over one million participants collectively, finally persuaded the government to end the bloodshed. A protest sign read: “The Majority is Not Silent.
The Government is Deaf” (Manning, 177-9). Yet there were other factors. The hippies were getting too old to be hippies; almost all of the counterculture started with participants under thirty, yet those who began the movement had been in involved for ten years. These were the baby boomers, and the next generation was no nearly as large to form its own “youth society.
” Furthermore, the music had gotten “drugged-out;” the performers were so “stoned” that their songs quickly became meaningless garble with no message. And what message was there to preach without the War? Drugs had destroyed the lives of many, and after realizing the negative effects many hippies no longer admired drugs, but feared them. Worst of all, little had been accomplished-dreams of world peace had failed. The Hippie Revolution lasted ten years with participation around the world, from the USSR to Great Britain.
Yet they accomplished so little. The teens were tired of waiting (Thompson 99-107). Women shaved their legs and piled on makeup. Men traded in their long hair and love beads for a business suit.
There were those who remained hippies and moved to isolated communes, but they were relatively few. Life essentially returned to the days before the Hippie Revolution. In actuality, only a minority of the youth of the sixties actually entered the counterculture, but those who did left a lasting impression upon society, and most of all themselves (108). The hippie movement of the mid- and late-nineteen sixties and the early nineteen seventies attempted to create a global society founded upon love and peace.
Through nonviolent protests the hippies helped end the Vietnam War, gain black, women’s, minority, and homosexual civil rights, and spread friendship and harmony around the globe. Not in vain, the era lives on through their music, their peace sign, and their memories; Woodstock was even recreated in 1994. The hippie influence is even prevalent in America’s society of 1998, which still possesses a youthful counterculture of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll.” Works Cited Buchholz, Ted, ed.
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The 1960s: Politics and Pot. New York, Anchor Book: 1992. Manning, Robert. The Vietnam Experience: A Nation Divided.
Boston, Boston Publishing Company: 1984. Michaels, Lisa. “Making a fashion statement.” Glamour Magazine (May 1998).
Thompson, Phoebe. The Flower Childern. New York, Prentice Hall: 1989 Tollefson, James W. The Strength Not to Fight.
Boston, Little, Brown and Company: 1993